Fairfield Now - Fall 2007
Class of '93 profile:
Sue Bretthauer: Just call her a cop
By Meredith Guinness
As a little girl, Susan Bretthauer never thought twice about what she wanted to be when she grew up.
"I wanted to be a cop. My mom said when I was three or four I would say that. You know - help people, put the bad guys in jail," says the 50 year old with a laugh. "My reasons have gotten a little more mature and realistic over the years, but I still want to be a cop."
And, after a stellar 28-year career in both the Easton and Stamford (Conn.) police departments, Bretthauer, who received her master's in community counseling in 1993, is quite a unique cop: She's the first woman to ever rise to the rank of assistant chief in the 300-officer-strong Stamford department. Making his historic December 2006 appointment, Stamford Police Chief Brent Larrabee extolled Bretthauer's education, leadership, and street skills.
She doesn't see what all the fuss is about. As the first woman hired for the Easton force back in 1979, she's grown used to being in a gender minority on the job. "I don't think it's a big deal. I know I'm qualified and I wanted to go for it," she said. "I've always thought, don't tell me I can't do something just because I'm female. I can't dunk a basketball. I know that. But it's not because I'm a woman. It's because I'm 5'5"!"
Bretthauer is one of two assistant chiefs, having risen through the ranks from patrol officer to sergeant to lieutenant to captain. At each stop she's been able to fulfill her dream of helping others, whether it's finding medical aid for a crime victim or commiserating with a stressed fellow officer. In fact, some of the more tense times on the force led her to seek her counseling degree. "It helps on calls when you're dealing with people," she said. "You have a little more insight. And I love learning what makes people do what they do."
It has also helped her deal with some of the unusual requests police encounter all the time. "Like when it's 4 a.m. and you're on dispatch and you get a call from someone who wants an abandoned car that's been sitting outside their house for a month moved - right now," she said, laughing. "And you think, 'Why did they think to call now? Why now at 4 a.m.?"
In her current post, Bretthauer oversees administration, the department's training academy, in-service training, the headquarters' building and jail, records, IT, and central hiring. "This promotion was important for me because I wanted to change some things and help make the department a better place to work, to make our jobs better," she said. "Now I can do a lot more as opposed to just suggesting. I know it sounds corny, but I'm helping people and that's what I like about the job."
While she's worked exclusively in Connecticut, Bretthauer is most definitely a New Yorker. Raised in the Bronx, she earned her bachelor's degree at St. John's University, where she was a standout point guard on the basketball team. When she arrived for her first night on duty in woodsy Easton, her boss was quick to help the city girl get her bearings. "He said, 'Remember: Moss grows on the north side of a tree,'" she said. "I looked at him and said, 'I know what a tree is. But what's moss?' I don't think he knew I was kidding at first. But it's true there are a lot more four-legged things running around up there than in the Bronx!"